FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas trailed for the first time this season, and it lasted virtually the entire first half at home against Oral Roberts on Wednesday, but the Razorbacks led most of the second half and got a 77-71 victory to improve to 4-0 for the first time in five years.
“Let me first give Oral Roberts credit,” head coach Stan Heath said. “They came in here prepared and they gave us a good test. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Oral Roberts (3-3) scored the first eight points of the game and led by 10 with 4:22 to play in the first period, 28-18, but three-pointers by Billy Pharis and Ronnie Brewer helped cut the lead to 30-26. Brewer tied the game at 32-32 on a layup. The tie lasted just 55 seconds as Jonathan Bluitt’s halfcourt three banked in at the buzzer to give the Golden Eagles a 35-32 lead at the break.
In the second half, Arkansas shot 54.8 percent, after shooting 44 percent in the first period, and held ORU to 41.9 percent, but missed free throws kept Oral Roberts in it.
Eric Ferguson, who had 18 points, four rebounds and two assists, made a layup for a 43-37 Arkansas lead at the 16:38 mark, but Eric Fowlkes’ layup gave the Golden Eagles a 48-47 lead six minutes later.
Oral Roberts, led by Ken Tutt with 17 points, went up by three, but Arkansas came back and went up by five, 61-56, on a Vincent Hunter slam with 5:41 to play.
“It seems like we didn’t get going until the end of the first half, but it carried over into the second half,” Heath said. “There were a lot of big plays during the game, especially down the stretch.”
Tutt’s three-pointer tied it at 67-67 with 2:31 left, but Arkansas started pulling away on a jumper by Pharis, who had a season high 12 points on five of seven shooting, and a free throw and layup by Jonathon Modica. Modica’s three points came off two of his three steals.
The Razorbacks, who came into the game shooting 78 percent as a team at the free throw line, made just six of 13 in the final 1:34 and only 14 of 30 for the game. ORU also outrebounded the Hogs, 37-32, but UA forced 18 turnovers while having more assists (15) than turnovers (12) for the second straight game.
“For a team that’s so young, to win a close game like that, that’s real important for our psyche,” Heath said.
Modica made six of 12 shots and had 18 points. Brewer was six of 10 and had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Hunter had eight points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Caleb Green had 15 points for ORU, while Ralph Charles and Schuyler Thomas had 11 each.
UA started 4-0 in 1998-99 before losing to Villanova, 76-63, in the championship game of the Top of the World Classic at Fairbanks, Alaska.
Arkansas plays in Chicago Saturday against Illinois in an 11:05 a.m. game, which is being televised by ARSN.